Head hair drug testing: how does it work?

Webinar recording from 11th May 2022
Watch the video below:

In this webinar, Andrew Priestley (Legal Sector Marketing Manager) and Ashley Hodgkinson (Sample Collections Manager) discuss how drug testing works using head hair samples. Find out how drugs are stored in head hair, the differences between an overall analysis and a segmented analysis, and the most common ways that people try to cheat the testing system.

AlphaBiolabs offers a comprehensive suite of drug testing services for the legal sector Find out more here.

FAQs from this webinar

Do the same measurements apply to different textures of hair (would tightly coiled hair be measured in its natural state or straightened out)?

Yes the same growth rates apply for all hair types. However, on some occasions the hair is too curly to segment, so in these situations we are only able to report as an overview – This is usually the case for afro hair.

Is there any difference in accuracy between head hair testing, body hair testing and fingernail testing for drug use?

No, the testing is just as accurate. However, head hair testing can be more specific as it can be segmented to show patterns and trends of use. Body hair and nails can only be reported as an overview for up to 12 months.

What is the growth rate of hair in different ethnicities and of different colours?

The same growth rates apply for all types of head hair samples.

Can a test be taken in prison?

Yes, we can arrange for a sample collector to collect from a prison.

How long does it take for long-term chronic use of a substance such as heroin to appear as undetected following abstinence?

As this would depend on the level of use prior to abstinence, there is no definitive answer to this question. However, for heavy long term drug users, the drug may be detected in the sample for up to 6 months after abstinence began.

How is hair growth affected during pregnancy and how does this affect the results? Does the analyser need to know the sample is from a pregnant woman?

No, we would not need this information for head hair testing. We only require this information for alcohol blood testing, as we are only able to test blood for PEth during pregnancy and for 2 months after birth.

How long will the drugs remain in the hair?

We are able to test for up to 12 months historical usage in head hair (12cm)

How do you differentiate between high, medium and low levels of use of any substance? Is this relative or is there a specific level of use that is calculated on approximate weight of the individual etc?

A low, medium or high range can be assigned to the analytical finding. This will represent either below the 25th percentile (LOW), between the 25th and 75th percentile (MEDIUM), or above the 75th percentile (HIGH). This label therefore, does not refer to the amount of drug consumed by an individual, but indicates where the result lies in comparison to previous positive cases collated by AlphaBiolabs.

In the case of different textures of hair, will you be able to state that in the report ?

We state what was requested length wise but we don’t detail the hair colour or texture, as we can’t make assumptions.

How does one assess a parent who says that they have stopped using a drug e.g. cocaine, but there seem to be positive results in the month or two following them ceasing… could they be using at a lower level still?

We would expect to see the level of drug detected declining in the months following abstinence. For long term drug users, we would not expect to see an immediate negative result, due to residual use but the level would be lower that the previous months.

Does semi permanent dye also affect results just like hair dye?

We would ask for this to be disclosed on the form and take it into consideration when writing the report.

Do you do legal aid rates?

All our testing prices are within legal aid rates.

Can you publish a list of your walk in sites so we could utilise these more

Our Walk In Centres are listed on our website.

Is there a significant pricing difference between testing head hair and body hair / nails?

This will depend on your specific testing requirements in terms of number of drugs and the time period. Please therefore request a quotation, to receive an indication of the actual price for each sample type available.

It doesn’t seem that you need a professional present, is that correct? We use another agency that usually requires a social worker to be present.

We do not require a witness for collections as we are more than happy to attend appointments in clients homes without a witness present. However, if your client preferred a witness to be there or you wanted to be present, we are happy to arrange a time and location that suits everyone.